Jewish Groups Respond to Early Biden Agenda

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Then-Vice President Joe Biden visits Israel in March 2016. Photo by US Embassy Jerusalem is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By Sophie Panzer and Gabe Friedman

Among the flurry of actions President Joe Biden took during his first week as president were several with special resonance for some Jewish voters.

Biden issued several executive orders and multiple legislative proposals shortly after his Jan. 20 inauguration. These included enacting new measures aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic (including a mask mandate in federal government buildings) and extending pandemic limits on evictions, foreclosures and student loan payment requirements.


He unveiled a detailed agenda for immigration, an issue that many American Jewish groups and Jewish voters are deeply invested in, fueled by an awareness of their roots as perpetual refugees and recent immigrants.

Biden put forward a plan that outlines an eight-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants without legal status and an expansion of refugee admissions. That would dramatically change the current system and allow millions of immigrants to pursue citizenship. After a waiting period of five years, those who pass a background check and prove that they have paid taxes would be granted green cards and allowed to apply to become citizens three years later.

Under Biden’s plan, the “Dreamers,” or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, who were born in the United States to parents without legal status, will be allowed to apply for green card status immediately.

Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania, said the new plan would help 11 million undocumented immigrants — many of whom came to the country legally but were not able to renew their visas — live without fear of being deported and separated from their loved ones.

“The proposal for a pathway to citizenship is the right proposal. It allows people who have formed roots, who are busy contributing to everything that is wonderful about the United States — they’re contributing their tax dollars, they’re contributing their diversity of language and culture, they’re contributing their love of democracy, which is most often what drew them here in the first place — to strengthen their standing,” she said.
Miller-Wilson said raising the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. would benefit the country by creating population growth in the face of declining birth rates. It would also make the U.S. a global leader during an unprecedented humanitarian crisis of displacement caused by armed conflict and climate change.

Immigrants from Israel would also benefit from the plan, according to Yoni Ari, the Philadelphia regional director of the Israeli-American Council.

“The immigration restrictions had a significant effect on workers and immigrants from Israel,” Ari said. “Many Israeli Americans who came to work, especially in the tech industry, are waiting a long time for a green card, and some Israelis with legal status issues are waiting for the DACA plan. The executive order about immigration is a great relief to so many.”

Biden hopes to revive other programs for refugees, including ones for minors from places such as Central American countries and Cuba seeking asylum. On his first day in office, he reversed President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order banning travelers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Biden is also taking steps to tackle domestic violent extremism, which is often closely tied to anti-Semitism. On Jan. 22, he asked the director of national intelligence to draw up a comprehensive threat assessment on domestic violent extremism, which the new administration deemed a “serious and growing national security threat” in the wake of the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

Cathryn Miller-Wilson (right) with a refugee.    Photo by Susan Kessler

Violent acts of anti-Semitism like the deadly Tree of Life and Poway synagogue shootings fall under this category.

“We need a comprehensive approach to battling anti-Semitism that takes seriously both the violence that accompanies it and the hateful and dangerous lies that undergird it,” Biden wrote in a JTA op-ed.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the threat assessment will be coordinated with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and will draw on analysis from across the U.S. government and outside organizations. She said the administration is aiming to strengthen the National Security Council’s ability to focus on domestic violent extremism.

“We welcome the administration’s commitment to making these issues, especially fighting anti-Semitism and fighting domestic extremism, a priority, and following through already,” said Shira Goodman, regional director of Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia. “It’s important for our leaders to use the power of their positions to set an example to stand up against anti-Semitism and racism and all forms of bigotry, and so we look forward to seeing that coming out of the highest levels of government, coming from the president.”

She hopes the new administration will appoint an anti-Semitism envoy and expand Holocaust education, and that Congress will pass legislation that will help the federal government monitor and thwart extremist violence.

“We need to quickly enact legislation like the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which was just reintroduced this week in the House and the Senate,” she said.

Biden signaled a commitment to combating climate change by revoking a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“That was extraordinarily important, both symbolically and in practical terms,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, climate activist and founder and director of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

He added that he was delighted that Biden decided to rejoin the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty to cut carbon emissions, but that it was a more symbolic action.

Waskow, who authored a petition calling for action on climate change last year that amassed 500 signatures from Jewish spiritual leaders, wants the administration to take more decisive steps, such as creating a federal program for creating solar co-op developments that would provide clean energy and cut fossil fuel emissions.
As of press time, several other areas of Jewish concern will have to wait on Biden’s desk. They include the questions of the Iran nuclear deal and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, among others.

Gabe Friedman is a reporter for JTA, where portions of this article first appeared.

1 COMMENT

  1. Where is the article from the U of P student who voiced concerns with Democrat party?
    The article to which you cowardly attached a disclaimer.

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